USE MYTH TO INCREASE YOUR STORY APPEAL — THE TIP SERIES
Or How I Used The Power Of Myth To Write My Series “Fighting Spiders”
My universe shifted when my favorite food center was torn down.
Then my universe righted itself when I learned it was only temporary. the food centre was merely going through renovation. A week or so later, a brand new coffee shop revealed itself to me. The familiar hawker stalls returned. Indian rojak, braised duck rice, the siren call of all my old favorite hawker stalls rang loud and clear. All was the same.
Two new stalls were added.
One proclaiming itself the King of Fried Rice. The other was the well-known Chef Wei’s Hong Kong “chee cheong fun”- a rice noodle roll that’s served warm with a choice of mushroom, prawn, or barbecued pork filling. I now had the pleasure of enjoying a restaurant style breakfast dish at an affordable price at my local food centre.
Two new stalls, brighter lights, cleaner signboards, but it was still the same food centre, with the same familiar and reassuring feel. Much like stories and how audience likes them served. No matter how weird, outlandish, and strange your story idea, you need a dollop of the familiar.
Because we’re slaves to the familiar.
And one way to do that is to connect your story to a myth.
We’ve all been there before.
Down on our luck. Something’s lacking in our lives. A yawning hole opens in our hearts. Then a thing happens. It has the potential to change your life. What do you do? Which path do you take? Do you take the road less travelled? Or stay within the comfort of our homes? Never to venture beyond the safe zone?
What kind of stories can we turn to for advice and inspiration?
We turn to the Hero’s Journey. Made popular by…
An American Professor Of Literature — Joseph Campbell
He was famous for his work in comparative mythology. He was also famous for holing up in a shack for five years doing nothing but deep diving his brain into world literature. Reading and studying the modern classics, like James Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegan’s wake. Campbell studied the cultural stories and narratives from the east and west and one day, the scales fell from his eyes as this realization dawned on him.
Every culture in the world basically tells the same story.
And the story is this.
An event has disrupted the ordinary world of the hero, and the hero must heed a Call To Action, cross a Threshold Of Guardians who will question the hero’s quest but whom the hero will over-ride, goes forth on a Journey, encounters Trials and Tribulations, and with the help of Mentors, overcomes them and returns to the world with a Boon or Wisdom.
All heroes on the same mythic journey, telling the same mythic story.
Myth teaches us that there is a way to live one’s life to its full potential. Myth teaches us to embrace hardship. That struggle is never a deal breaker in our quest. Myth teaches us that the moment before light breaks over the horizon of our lives is always the darkest. Myth answers our yearning to be bigger than who and what we can be.
And we respond to the hero’s journey because we wish to learn what it takes to be the heroes in our own lives. I suspect this is why the plots of Rambo and Star Wars transcend language and culture.
And that was why I used myth as….
A Tool For Rewriting
In 2009, I created and wrote Fighting Spiders. It’s a one-hour drama series, set in the sixties, about three boys whose friendship was tested in their quest to find the King Spider somewhere in Malaysia. It was a coming-of-age drama. The series was as much about my thoughts and opinions about friendship as it was about my homage to the romantic sixties of Singapore.
Despite its several subplots about love triangles, gangster action, the series was primarily about three boys who go on a quest to find the King Spider. And in this journey, their friendship was tested. The values they held dear were put to the fire. And it did not matter if the King Spider was a fiction, what mattered was the journey they went through. And the lessons they learnt. And the wisdom they brought back when they returned to Singapore. In other words, their journeys as heroes.
I kept the mythic elements of the hero’s journey in the back burner of my mind as I went about the task of rewriting the episodic stories. Knowing the hero’s journey allowed me to see the 13 episodes as one big story plot and made it easier for me to chart the events that should happen. Something like this.
Big bully challenged the boys to a fighting spider match. (INCITING INCIDENT)
Three boys hear of a mystical king spider in neighboring country. (CALL TO ACTION)
Three boys go on a quest to find the King Spider. ( THE QUEST/JOURNEY )
Three boys encounter new loves, almost get kidnapped, and various other obstacles that test their friendship. (TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS)
Three boys break up. (THE BELLY OF THE WHALE. DARKEST MOMENT)
Three boys recover, make up, go back to Singapore, without finding the King Spider, but they found something even more valuable. (RETURN WITH WISDOM)
I suspect that was why the series resonated with viewers when it aired. And why it earned an award years later in Korea.
Such is the power of mythic storytelling.
As a tool for rewriting, use the Hero’s Journey to help create universal appeal in your story.